by Jill Robinson
Cultural exchange is critical in building a world community that embraces diversity, tolerance and an openness to different ideas and ways of thinking. Life experiences vary from person to person, and learning from others’ stories is a way to better understand why people react in certain ways.
To do this, we need to know how to listen and engage in conversation. Reading “Beth’s Blog” today, her guest writer, Allison Fine, addresses how conversation in social media sites have the potential to create positive change. This made me think, and I agree, but the key in conversation is more than speaking, more importantly it involves listening. Sites like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc. create an environment where we are more than happy to post what we are doing and feeling at the moment. I am happy to comment on my emotions from one hour to the other, or what I had to eat for lunch, but there is potential for so much more interaction. There is incredible amounts of resources to engage with more people with diverse backgrounds and interests, but to be effective we must LISTEN.
Working in an environment that is passionate about cultural exchange and travel experiences it is critical that people understand the art of conversation, of adapting and of appreciating traditions and routines that might seem unfamiliar. Greenheart Travel provides participants with experiences all over the world, and it is amazing to see how some people really grow from engaging with their community or host family.
One participant volunteered in Ghana as an English teacher, and during her stay she tought much more than grammer, more age groups than the junior high class she was inititally placed, and created a library in an old storage room before she returned home. She did all this because she understood the power of conversation. Her ability to listen led to understanding of why certain situations were occuring in the school. Students needed access to reading materials, and she wanted to provide that basic need.
Society is in a critical place, where conversations between governments and ethnic groups and members of international societies can move us forward or stagnate us in conflict. Conversation at a basic, human level is the first step in making sure cultural exchange is successful.
My fluency in different languages might be limited, but I know how to smile, to say thank you in what ever country I am visiting and I’m willing to learn. This might involve a lot of hand gestures, but that in itself communicating. Conversation in cultural exchange is why we travel, why we trudge through security lines in an airport, brave a foreign transportation system, or struggle to order bottled water without bubbles in French. These experiences make us who we are as individuals, and re-telling stories of your trip to Ecuador is a lot more exciting if it involves more characters than yourself.